Reaction to FCC’s Lifeline Announcement

Author: 

After Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn released a proposal on modernizing the Lifeline proposal, Washington reacted:

Benton Foundation Director of Policy Amina Fazlullah said, “The Benton Foundation applauds the Federal Communications Commission on taking another step to reform and modernize the Lifeline program. Broadband has a crucial impact on our economy – creating efficiencies, improving productivity, and accelerating innovation. And it is an essential service for education, public health, and public safety. Some segments of the U.S. population have reached near-100 percent broadband adoption rates. For these populations, market forces have been sufficient to get us toward our goal of universal adoption. But there are nagging, persistent divides in broadband deployment and adoption – what we at Benton call ‘digital deserts.’ As recent research makes clear, the cost of service remains the biggest barrier to broadband adoption. Modernizing the Lifeline program for the 21st Century is the most effective way we can make broadband service affordable for low income consumers across the nation. And there is no better time for the FCC to act than right now.”

“Access to the Internet is a necessity, not a luxury, and low-income households need affordable, quality 21st century communications,” said National Consumer Law Center attorney Olivia Wein. “We thank FCC Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn for their leadership in modernizing the Lifeline program and Commissioner Rosenworcel for elevating the need to close the “homework gap” for our nation’s children.”

“Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn's Lifeline modernization proposal is a critical step toward making broadband affordable for all Americans,” said Phillip Berenbroick, Counsel for Government Affairs at Public Knowledge. “Access to broadband Internet service has become a necessity in modern America -- we use broadband to communicate with loved ones, connect to education and health care, and to participate in our democracy and the global economy. Chairman Wheeler and Commissioner Clyburn's proposal, if adopted, will help close the digital divide and connect low-income Americans to the essential communications medium of the 21st century. The proposal not only modernizes the Lifeline program, but it also takes significant steps to protect the integrity of the universal service fund and ensure Lifeline remains sustainable into the future. The proposal increases competition by allowing more broadband providers to offer Lifeline-supported service. It also establishes a third-party verifier and sets minimum broadband standards while eliminating virtually any potential for fraud. Finally, the plan ensures that the Lifeline program can absorb higher rates of participation as eligible households choose to subscribe to broadband Internet -- many of them for the first time.”

“The FCC should be commended for taking the next steps to ensure low-income Americans have more affordable access to all telecommunications services, including broadband. While we’re awaiting more details about the Lifeline proposal, this appears to be a welcome move that will help address the nation’s digital divide…. we must stay vigilant if we truly wish to eradicate the digital divide. Lifeline is but one tool to address the issue of affordability. If the FCC’s primary goal is to get as many people using broadband as possible, then the best thing it can do is take all possible steps to make all broadband services affordable. The issue of affordability is deeply intertwined with the challenging problem of insufficient competition. Letting a small handful of companies control last-mile access to Internet users drives the cost of a connection far beyond the reach of many lower-income communities. If the Commission wants to increase affordability, it must address the lack of competition,” said Free Press Policy Director Matt Wood .

Joshua Stager, policy counsel for New America’s Open Technology Institute, said, "Today’s announcement is a welcome step toward closing America’s longstanding digital divide, which has left millions of Americans without Internet access. Chairman Wheeler’s proposal would bring flexibility and common-sense modernization to a program that has successfully helped low-income households get telephone service for 30 years. OTI commends this latest effort to modernize Lifeline, another prudent step in the program’s evolution that began with its creation during the Reagan Administration and continued with an expansion into wireless voice service under George W. Bush."

John Windhausen, Executive Director of the SHLB Coalition, said, “The SHLB Coalition joins the chorus of voices from consumers and companies that support the FCC’s proposal to modernize the federal Lifeline program. Access to broadband is a necessity for all consumers, but residential broadband adoption has stalled over the last few years. While we are pleased that the FCC is making standalone broadband service eligible for Lifeline support, this action alone may not be sufficient to solve the Digital Divide. The U.S. needs a holistic approach to broadband adoption that recognizes the important role of our nation’s schools, libraries, health care providers, municipalities, and other public and non-profit institutions in promoting digital literacy and offering innovative broadband services. Low-income consumers will benefit most if our nation’s non-profit community institutions are included as part of the Lifeline solutions.”

"High-speed Internet access is an essential part of learning today – just like textbooks, rulers, and science labs. Homework is assigned online, there are incredible learning apps and web sites, and a wealth of information and research online," said James Steyer, founder of Common Sense. "But too many people today — including millions of young students — still cannot access those essential tools at home, where so much learning takes place. We applaud the FCC's draft Lifeline order because it will take America a critical step closer to eliminating the gaping divide between today's digital haves and have nots. The FCC's thoughtfully drafted plan will ensure the program is efficient and accountable and that millions of America's children and adults can more fully participate in our modern economy and education system."

“Today’s draft order takes critical steps to ensure veterans have access to the essential services provided by the Lifeline program,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT). “The discounts provided through Lifeline make it easier for veterans to contact the VA for benefits and medical appointments, to contact potential employers, and to find housing. In times of most need, an affordable telephone service also makes it easier for veterans to reach the Veterans Crisis Line and the Help for Homeless Veterans hotline. It is vital that Lifeline assistance be extended to broadband services, as well, providing all low-income consumers with access to the economy of the 21st century."

Rep. Mark Takano (D-CA) said, “The Lifeline modernization proposal released today by Chairman [Tom] Wheeler and Commissioner [Mignon] Clyburn is a welcome step toward helping low-income families gain meaningful access to broadband Internet," he said. "Just like home phone service in the 1980s and mobile phone service in the 2000s, high-speed Internet is critical to participating in the modern economy. I applaud the FCC’s commitment to closing the digital divide that prevents families from gaining a foothold in the middle class. Today’s proposal also reflects the FCC’s focus on making the Lifeline program live up to its promise. By removing unnecessary administrative burdens and establishing powerful checks on waste, fraud, and abuse, the modernized program will operate seamlessly for all eligible families. "

"[T]he Commission must continue to take steps to eliminate waste, fraud, and abuse in the program," said Comcast senior executive VP David Cohen. "Recent FCC actions have helped in this regard, but as the Commission reforms Lifeline, it should, as with all universal service programs, do so in a financially responsible and cost-effective manner. The Commission must ensure that the Lifeline program meets its goals but also that the universal service fund as a whole does not impose an unreasonable burden on consumers. The fact that universal service is financed by U.S. consumers underscores the importance of that responsibility. The Commission’s proposal that eligibility and recertification functions currently performed by service providers are instead handled by a national verifier will help in this regard."

Scott Bergmann, VP of regulatory affairs for CTIA, said his group was still evaluating the proposal, but that they "generally support the FCC’s efforts to expand the Lifeline program to broadband services and to improve the administration of the Lifeline program." But there were some major caveats. "We are, however, concerned that by dictating service offerings, the FCC will increase costs for consumers and put the 21st Century out of reach for millions of low-income Americans. We are also troubled by the proposal to eliminate support for wireless voice services (there is a three-year phaseout) while continuing to fund wireline voice, which ignores the cord-cutting trend that has taken hold across the nation. A reform effort that raises barriers to pro-consumer wireless services and drives users to solely landline offerings is counter to the needs of low-income Americans.”


Statement (Benton Foundation statement) Statement (National Consumer Law Center) Public Knowledge Supports FCC Lifeline Modernization Proposal to Include Broadband (Public Knowledge) Statement (Free Press) SHLB Coalition Joins Chorus of Support for Modernizing Lifeline Program (SHLB Coalition) Reaction to FCC Broadband Lifeline Piles Up (B&C)